Britain’s Peter Higgs and Francois Englert of Belgium won the Nobel Prize in Physics yesterday for predicting the existence of the Higgs boson particle, which explains how elementary matter attained the mass to form stars and planets.
Half-a-century after their original work was carried out, the new building block of nature was finally detected last year at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) center’s giant, underground particle-smasher near Geneva, Switzerland.
The discovery was hailed as one of the most important in physics.
“I am overwhelmed to receive this award,” Higgs said in a statement issued by the University of Edinburgh, where he has worked for many years. “I hope this recognition of fundamental science will help raise awareness of the value of blue-sky research.”
The two scientists had been favorites to share the 8 million Swedish kronor (US$1.25 million) prize after their theoretical work was vindicated by the CERN experiments.
To find the elusive particle, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider had to pore over data from the wreckage of trillions of sub-atomic proton collisions.
The Higgs boson is the last piece of the Standard Model of physics, which describes the fundamental make-up of the universe. Some commentators — although not scientists — have called it the “God particle,” for its role in turning the Big Bang into an ordered cosmos.
Higgs’ and Englert’s work shows how elementary particles inside atoms gain mass by interacting with an invisible field pervading all of space. The particle associated with the field is the Higgs boson.
Asked how it felt to win, Englert said by phone link to Stockholm: “You may imagine that this is not very unpleasant, of course. I am very, very happy to have the recognition of this extraordinary award.”